My Short Piece on Freedom

November 3, 2008
By Marie Rakosnikova, Putney, VT

Fall 1989 in Prague

People in old, gray jackets, ugly caps and flimsy shoes were thronging between the blocks of tall, eighteenth-century buildings with cracked, brown stucco. The rustling of tens of thousands of bodies was punctuated by quiet conversations to relieve the utter tension. Radiant women with canvas bags craning their heads, students holding red, white and blue flags and banners made of old sheets, and men with worn, leather briefcases filled the cobblestone streets. The closed windows above them reflected the white fall sky. Every one of them prized liberty. They were standing there, grateful that they could take part in an attempt to free their country from a political regime that had been suffocating them for forty years.

My father slipped through the crowds to my mother, who was muffled up in an oversized, grayish parka, waiting in front of a shop window of a handsome, functional building. The glass was covered by notices, posters and photographs of politicians. The signs shouted, “Free Election” and “We Don’t Want Any Violence!” My mother whispered to my father that people were afraid the army would intervene against the demonstrators. Then she smiled at him boldly and happily. At night they would drive packages of forbidden newspapers to the country, where people mostly didn’t know what was going on in bigger cities. For some time, the television and radio wouldn’t tell the truth about the demonstrations and strikes.

A raw woman’s tenor resounded in the square. In the upper part of the longest square of Prague a woman in a khaki sweatshirt was standing on the granite pedestal of the bronze, larger-than-life equestrian statue of Saint Wenceslas, the patron of our country. She was singing the national anthem for the overcrowded square.

Suddenly all the people stop moving, eyes wide open, their expressions of enthusiasm and excitement still on their faces. Flags shaped by wind, evoking whirling water, create strange, contrasting shapes.
The black and white photograph covered the front page of the theater program gripped in my fist. I was leaning forward, my forearms laid on the cloth padding of the railing. The song ‘Satisfaction’ from Rolling Stones was roaring in my ears. Figures of actors standing in a row on the flood-lit, beige stage were bowing. The endless applause rewarded the performance of Rock’n’Roll, a play about one dissident’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia.
As the lights in the crystal chandeliers slowly rose, the auditorium filled with blurred gold shapes. I knew they were the restored gilt plaster reliefs of flowers and little, chubby angels that decorated the interior of the old National Theater. The capital letters above the stage read: “NÁROD SOBÄš!” – “THE NATION FOR ITSELF!” Tears of happiness were falling on my favorite, light-blue taffeta dress. While the people around me were standing up and hurrying out to the coatcheck, I remained in my chair, enjoying the fact I was the only person in the auditorium.
Unlike my parents when they were my age, I had traveled with my family to foreign countries, learned English, German and Latin, read books about famous architects, listened to jazz and rock ‘n’ roll, and watched old, Italian movies. Broadcasts about the successful potato crop, military parades on May First (the international workers’ holiday), waiting in endless lines for everything from a small piece of meat to permission to leave the country; that all was in the past, the whole world was at my feet.

The painted theater curtain was gently falling. Even though the iron one had fallen nineteen years ago, I could still feel the power of being free.

The author's comments:
The author is an exchange student from Czech Republic, born in 1991.

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This article has 1 comment.

ahjahj said...
on Nov. 19 2008 at 10:59 am
i love this piece. so beautiful!

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